Too Fat to Vote

February 25th, 2013

Published on VICE (first on Greg Palast.com), by Greg Palast, Feb 23, 2013).

You know why black folk in the south don’t vote? According to the New York Times and the experts at the Pew Charitable Trust, they’re just too damn fat!

Normally I wouldn’t care what the Times is passing off as fact, except for that, on February the 27th, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  

The Voting Rights Act was the law that Martin Luther King Jr had a dream about a half-century ago: that all citizens will be able to exercise their right to vote. But, like all pleasant dreams, morning means waking up to the ugly reality sleeping next to you.

The pug-uglies in this case are the four Supreme Court justices hostile to the Act. If one more joins them, you can kiss Martin’s dream goodbye. The dream-busters are led by Chief Justice John Roberts. In 2009, he wrote, “The historic accomplishments of the Voting Rights Act are undeniable.” But – and Roberts’ “but” is huge – the Act is out of date and “fails to account for current political conditions” … //

… Pew was advised by Yale law professor Heather K Gerken, who explained the study for the New York Times.

“Poor Southern states perform well, and they perform badly. Rich New England states perform well and badly – mostly badly,” she said. In other words, Justice Roberts is right: “The evil that [Voting Rights Act Section 5] is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for preclearance.”

In other words, why pick on Florida and the 15 others?

But wait. Something’s missing: colour. Sure, the average Floridian waited 23 minutes to vote, but what about black voters?

In November, I joined African-American voters on “Souls to the Polls” day. Their wait for a ballot: four hours. Then I went up the road to an all-white polling station. Wait: zero minutes. There were unused rows of balloting machines, more poll workers than voters and a pot of coffee brewing for the pale suburban-Americans casting ballots.

Oddly, despite a hot, hot Presidential contest with an African-American candidate, by mid-May 2012, the Census Bureau reported that the number of African-Americans registered declined by over one million. Hispanic names on voter rolls fell, too, despite massive registration drives. A big decline in voters of colour was reported in the South’s huge swing state, Florida.

So, overall voter turnout fell short. But the reason, according to the Pew expert featured in the Times, is that, “States in the Deep South with high obesity problems seem to be having a problem getting people to the polling place.”

Apparently, citizens of colour south of the Mason-Dixon line are just too fat to vote.

Maybe there’s another explanation for black and Hispanic names disappearing from the polls. Willie Steen, a Gulf War veteran, was removed from the voter rolls in 2000 because the Republican Secretary of State of Florida listed him as a felon. I met Steen. He’d never got so much as a parking ticket. He was, like tens of thousands of others, guilty of “VWB”; Voting While Black.

Secretary of State Katherine Harris sent Steen a note of apology for the “error”, but only after the election of George W Bush. Then, in 2004, Steen, who is quite slender, was purged again … //

… And for good reason. Take California – under a Republican Secretary of State, Bruce McPherson, 42 percent of voter registration forms were rejected, an overwhelmingly amount of those Hispanic, Arab-American and Asian. Jim Crow, it seems, became a surfer dude.

In 2004, in McKinley County, New Mexico, only one in ten voters cast a ballot for President – at least, that’s what the machines said. In fact, the voting machines simply disappeared the vote – almost all cast by Navajo Natives. Unfortunately McKinley was, by that time, “bailed out” of the Voting Rights Act, which any state can do by proving it no longer discriminates. (Apparently there’s not much you have to prove.)

And those lines I filmed of black voters standing for hours and white voters waltzing in for a ballot without a wait? That was in Ohio, with arguably the most racially bent voting system in America. (When the black voters finally made it to the voting station, I discovered they’d been given “absentee” ballots, subject to challenge, rather than the regular ballots given to the white voters.)

The horror show in Ohio does not absolve the racist voting systems of Florida, it merely calls for another expansion of the pre-clearance list to reflect a new reality. Jim Crow voting games are more widespread and far more sophisticated today than in 2000 when I first uncovered the Florida black-out.

That’s because Jim Crow is now Dr James Crow, database analyst, a hired gun who knows it’s easier to win elections by blocking voters rather than winning their votes. Identifying and challenging “suspect” voters is far more effective in chasing away blacks than burning crosses.

In 2012, cyber-guru Karl Rove created a massive voter profiling system called Data Trust. Rove stated then that, for example, “Even a small drop in the share of black voters would wipe out [Obama’s] winning margin in North Carolina. If [black voters’] share of turnout drops just one point in North Carolina, Mr Obama’s winning margin there is wiped out two and a half times over.”

A little purge goes a long way. Add in a requirement of voter IDs with photos (which Indiana used to bar about 72,000 black voters this year), and voting games, not voters, will pick our government.

The solution is not for the Supreme Court to let Jim Crow ride again through the Southland, but another expansion of pre-clearance scrutiny to Ohio and those states that need a little Reconstruction.

(full long text, pictures and links to previously articles).

(Greg Palast is a New York Times bestselling author and fearless investigative journalist whose reports appear on BBC Television Newsnight and in The Guardian. Palast eats the rich and spits them out. Catch his reports and films at Greg Palast.com, where you can also securely send him your documents marked, “confidential“).

Links:

More articles from Greg Palast;

Protected: SCLY2 Research Methods and Education Overview (test – forthcoming!), on realsociology, by blog owner, Feb 18, 2013;

Protected: Globalisation Essay Plan and Podcast (test – forthcoming!), on realsociology, by blog owner, Feb 18, 2013;

Occupy The Commons
, A new wave of occupations redefines citizenship and political participation in Italy, as elections fast approach, on AlJazeera, by Donatella Della Ratta, Feb 20, 2013;

Pressure that works, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Ahmed Morsy, Feb 20, 2013;

Talking about talks, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Omayma Abdel-Latif, Feb 20, 2013.

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